May 6, 2020

5 Tips for staying connected with youth during COVID-19

5 Tips for staying connected with youth during COVID-19

As we enter week six of stay-at-home orders, quarantines and social distancing, I've noticed that ‘cope’ may be one of the more commonly used words flying around out there. There’s no doubt that if you type it into a search bar some of the top suggestions will have something to do with COVID-19. Undoubtedly, we find ourselves in some of the most unfamiliar waters any of us, even the world, has ever been in.

Now I don’t know about you, but for a long time I misunderstood the word ‘cope.’ For some reason it possesses a negative connotation for me. I believed it meant: just squeaking by in dealing with some sort of hardship — as if there wasn’t a higher level of success connected with it. However, I came to realize that this is not the meaning of the word at all. Here’s one definition that gives ‘cope,’ the strength and dignity (if a word can have dignity) it deserves.

“to face and deal with responsibilities, problems or difficulties, especially successfully or in a calm or adequate manner…” –

“Successfully” and “calm” were the two markers that, for me, elevated this word to another level. With this foundation laid, I’d like to share how people are coping with COVID-19 and all that comes with it — specifically in the world of Catholic youth ministry.

Currently, I serve as the Coordinator of Middle School Ministry at St. Ann Catholic Parish in Coppell, TX. It’s sort of a big parish — about 8000 families. We don’t write the book on youth ministry, but we do work hard to be innovative and on the cutting edge when it comes to reaching young people. Admittedly, I believe that our motivation for this stance is prodded and encouraged by the greatness that is around us. I may be biased, but I believe that the North Texas area is one of the best hubs for ministry to young people when compared to anywhere in the country. I have had the pleasure of working on the national, diocesan and parish levels, and I can speak from first-hand experience that the pool of youth ministers in this area are among the smartest, most creative, caring, talented and faithful that I’ve seen. It’s such an incredible mix that, when congealed, creates a youth ministry ‘power house.’

Let me be clear, I am not suggesting that there isn’t great ministry happening elsewhere. I am simply establishing the credibility of this article, as I will be drawing a lot of what I write from what I see happening ‘on the ground’ in this area. With that said, here are my 5 Tips for staying connected with youth during COVID-19.

1. Have a plan

At the onset of the stay-at-home order (ours started on March 23), I came upon two resources (not based in North Texas) that I thought hit the mark when it comes to ways to cope with our current circumstances.

  • “Tips for Managing Cooped Up Teens” by Roy Petitfils, Video and Blog
  • “Planning to Thrive” by Chris Mueller of Everyday Catholic, Blog

2. Find a community

One of the lessons I learned in my first year of professional youth ministry is that you cannot and should not do this alone. Finding a community among fellow youth ministry professionals is critical to assisting this crazy work we do, but also helps to prevent burn out and isolation.

One of the things I really like about our youth ministry community here is that we are connected through Workplace (by Facebook). The Diocese of Dallas Office of Youth, Young Adult and Campus Ministry established the page over a year ago to help youth ministers in our diocese stay connected, sharing ideas and struggles. It has proven to be a valuable resource for discussing youth ministry strategies during this unprecedented time. It’s the connection of this group that has provided not only professional support, but also personal support for a ministry that, if not checked, can be consuming.

3. Create/maintain normalcy

In the ‘abnormalcy’ (probably not a word) of our current lives, it is critical that we help our young people experience something that looks close to the usual ministry offerings that we have always provided.

For the past five weeks, we have been “meeting” with our youth on Wednesday nights through (what we call) a ‘virtual Bible study.’ And we hardly missed a beat from our Pre-COVID-19 plan. Through the use of Zoom, we have created (as best we could) the much-needed normalcy for our youth. The nights follow the same basic format that we used when we met in person. Here’s a basic flow:

  • Gather/Welcome
  • Song/Pray Message/Discussion
  • Challenge/Pray
  • Announcements
  • Closing/Hang

4. Foster online small groups

An alternative to a large group gathering, parishes are doing online small groups that have been very successful! Teens are stoked to talk to individuals outside their immediate families. This format puts young people in a less intimidating situation than the large group environment, allowing them to talk about the issues they are facing, while being led to consider how God is working in and through all of this. Daily messages through GroupMe are a great way to provide follow up to the discussions and maintain connectivity between gatherings.

5. Find alternatives to Zoom

Many are finding that our families are now in ‘Zoom overload’ and experiencing screen fatigue. One of our parishes has moved from online gatherings to true family outreach. They deployed their core team to contact each family over the phone to make a personal connection, check on their needs and pray with them.

Another youth ministry team bought a few packs of postcards and stamps on the USPS website. They plan to send a note to each confirmation candidate in their parish. Definitely a slow process, but in this day and age of digital connection, a hand-written note can go a long way toward fortifying lasting relationships.

This was certainly not an exhaustive list, by any means, but hopefully it will provide some practical ideas on how to get things started and maintain a successful connection with the young people at your parish. May God continue to bless you and your families.

Peace of Christ to you!

Cooper Ray
Cooper Ray

Cooper Ray is a dynamic speaker and musician who shares his faith with honesty and passion. Drawing from 20 years of professional ministry experience as a retreat facilitator, liturgical musician and diocesan director, he is committed to bringing people to Christ. He has published two collections through OCP and collaborated with numerous contemporary Catholic artists like Steve Angrisano, Josh Blakesley and Tom Booth.